Twenty-five years ago the Bielski brothers, Ricky and Randy, were steaming crabs at Ocean Pride in Lutherville. Now they own the restaurant and carryout, along with a couple of other places: Bagel Works (Randy) and Charles Village Pub (Ricky).
When the brothers bought Ocean Pride a year and a half ago, they decided to focus on crabs -- something, says Ricky, the previous owners had gotten away from. Steamed hard shells are now available there year round. The current crop is from Texas and Louisiana and comes in five sizes: medium ($34 a dozen), large ($49), extra large ($64), jumbo ($74) and whales ($84).
Prices subject to change, I'm sure.
I ordered one whale just to see what a $7 crab looks like. It looked big. I attacked it before it could attack me, and came away feeling that size matters only if you're lazy. I'm sure Ocean Pride's smaller crabs are just as sweet tasting, but I must have gotten as much meat out of my one as three of the smalls -- er, mediums.
Meanwhile, the rest of my crew were starting their meals with more conventional appetizers. The choices are pretty much divided between classic Maryland fare (crab balls) and bar food (Buffalo wings). The kitchen steams fat mussels in white wine and garlic but serves them without the sauce; instead, drawn butter comes on the side. Mushroom caps are stuffed with crab imperial and arrive sizzling from the broiler. Clams casino are a winner in an understated way. The clams aren't overwhelmed by their cheese, bacon and garlic topping.
It's been awhile since I've been at a place that serves good old-fashioned Maryland seafood dishes like crab imperial. There's something very lovable about crab imperial, that delicious and bad-for-your-waistline combination of lump crabmeat, mayonnaise and seasonings baked until the top turns a golden brown.
A restaurant like this, of course, has seafood platters -- not only the usual broiled or fried samplers, but also one called "Crabs, Crabs, Crabs" with a crab cake, crab imperial and crabmeat cocktail.
I'm always hesitant about broiled seafood platters because something on them is usually overcooked, but not this time. The flounder filet, lobster tail, scallops and shrimp all survived the broiler unscathed and didn't need anything more than drawn butter and a piece of lemon. (Not that they got anything else.)
Sometimes the kitchen ventures into more modern territory with dishes like a Cajun tuna steak, blackened and served with a "wasabi mayo sauce." The fresh, meaty fillet, raw except for its blackened crust, stood up to the powerful seasonings beautifully.
Not everything is seafood here. One of the specialties is prime rib, and the hostess and waiter praised it to the skies. You have to admire the truth in advertising; the menu describes its prime rib as "USDA choice beef." It's a perfectly acceptable, even generous piece of beef for $15.99, and I really liked the fact that the kitchen didn't over- season it. But I would order seafood at Ocean Pride.
Don't save room for dessert. The waiter is likely to point you to Friendly's, as ours did.
When the Bielski brothers took over Ocean Pride, they did some serious renovation, mostly extending the bar area. Nothing has been fancied up, though. This is bare-bones decor, reminding you of all the crab houses of your youth. What's funny is that if you ask for a glass of wine, the teenaged waiter reels off all sorts of choices -- sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, chardonnay and so on. That wouldn't have happened 10 years ago when I was last there.
Ocean Pride seems to me more kid-friendly than I remember it, but maybe that's just because Ricky Bielski told me -- I talked to him over the phone so I could stay anonymous -- that one of his and his brother's goals was to "make things more reasonable for families."
You'll find lots to order here priced below that magic $20 mark. In fact, 10 years ago the most expensive dish on the menu was $21; the most expensive entree on the current menu is just 99 cents more.
Food: *** (3 STARS)
Service: ** 1/2 (2 1/2 STARS)
Atmosphere: ** (2 STARS)
Where: 1534 York Road, Lutherville
Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner
Prices: Appetizers, $3.99-$11.99; entrees, $12.99-$21.99
Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *